Rabbi Scheinberg Recommends These Books

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For books that won the National Jewish Book Awards and others recommended by members of the congregation, including books for children and cookbooks, see our complete book list.

Jewish Living
Passover
Bibles

There are thousands of books that are designed as introductions to Jewish life, culture, and tradition. Of course, their quality and ideological perspective vary widely. These are the books that I find myself plugging most often, in classes and individual sessions.

These books are valuable not only for beginners, but also for people who feel they have a strong grounding in Jewish tradition. It is certainly possible for someone to be a very knowledgeable Jew and yet to lack an articulate answer to the question, “What are the most important values of Judaism? And why should I bother to affirm my Jewish identity and uphold Jewish tradition?” These books are indispensable for individuals - and especially parents - who have ever faced (or asked) these questions.

Jewish Living

Living Judaism, by Wayne Dosick
This is the book I use as a textbook in my Introduction to Judaism classes. Not only does it work well as a catch-all reference book about Jewish practice, but it also includes essays that emphasize the personal meaning that the author derives from Judaism.
Choosing a Jewish Life, by Anita Diamant
In my opinion, anything Anita Diamant writes is worth reading. This is the best step-by-step guide to the non-Orthodox conversion process I have ever seen, including excerpts from interviews with dozens of people who have converted to Judaism.
New Jewish Wedding Book, by Anita Diamant -- absolutely indispensable for anyone planning a Jewish wedding.
Jewish Literacy, by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin.
This is the one book on this list that I think belongs in EVERY Jewish home. It is a one-volume, informative and entertaining reference work that includes brief essays covering virtually every facet of Jewish values, history, and tradition. One of Telushkin’s other books, Jewish Wisdom, is also worthy of note as an anthology of quotable Jewish texts on a range of timeless and contemporary issues.
God is a Verb, by Rabbi David Cooper.
Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) and Jewish meditation are now all the rage. I have found this book to be a good introduction, written from a very knowledgeable (though non-traditional) perspective.
To Life! by Harold Kushner
One of the most articulate American Conservative rabbis presents his introduction to Jewish beliefs, values, and traditions.
Back to the Sources edited by Barry Holtz
This book, often used in college courses on Judaism, includes chapters on each of the major traditional Jewish writings, including the Bible, the Mishnah and Talmud, Midrash, medieval philosophical works, and the prayerbook.
Entering Jewish Prayer by Reuven Hammer
A great way to learn about the Siddur and Jewish prayer, written by one of the leaders of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel. Also see his Entering the High Holidays.
The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary by Michael Strassfeld
Introduces the major themes and practices for each Jewish holiday, from an engaging pluralistic perspective
The Art of Jewish Living: The Shabbat Seder; Hanukkah by Ron Wolfson
Excellent introductions to these holidays from the perspective of the Conservative movement, including suggestions for incorporating these traditions into one's life. The Passover Seder book is especially helpful for first-time Seder leaders.
A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice by Isaac Klein
The best book in English for summarizing the details of Jewish practice as interpreted in the Conservative movement. Includes chapters summarizing Jewish law relating to Kashrut (dietary laws), Shabbat and holidays, marriage and divorce, prayer, birth, death and mourning, and much more -- an essential reference book.
The Art of Jewish Living: A Time to Mourn, A Time to Comfort by Ron Wolfson
From the perspective of the Conservative movement, a guide to a Jewish traditional perspective on death and mourning, including concepts and practices.
Mourning and Mitzvah by Anne Brener
A guide for using the traditions of Judaism during the mourning process.
What is God's Name? by Rabbi Sandy Sasso
Theology for the under-5 set. (Baby to preschool) Try other children's books by her as well!
It's a Mitzvah! by Brad Artson
This book provides step-by-step guidelines for incorporating the mitzvot (commandments) into one's life: both Judaism's ritual commandments, such as Kashrut, Shabbat, and regular prayer, as well as Judaism's ethical commandments, such as ethical speech, concern for animals and the environment, and promoting peace in the world.
Jewish Family and Life by Yosef Abromowitz and Rabbi Susan Silverman
Chock-full of Jewish parenting suggestions. Also, check out the authors' web-site: www.jewishfamily.com.

Bibles

If you want to have a Bible for your home library, the one I recommend the most is "Tanakh : A New Translation of the Holy Scriptures According to the Traditional Hebrew Text" from the New Jewish Publication Society. This is the current Jewish Publication Society version of the complete text of the Hebrew Bible, translated into English, completed in 1985. Tanakh is an acronym for the Bible consisting of three hebrew letters: tav, standing for Torah; the first five books of the Bible, the five books of Moses; nun, standing for Nevi'im, the Prophets, such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Hosea and Micah; and koph, standing for Kethuvim, the Writings, such as Psalms, Proverbs, the book of Job and the Book of Esther.
Two other interesting books that are not a complete Bible, are Everett Fox's translation of "The Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy : A New Translation With Introductions, Commentary, and Notes." Widely acclaimed by Bible scholars and theologians of every denomination, Everett Fox's masterful translation re-creates the echoes, allusions, alliterations, and wordplays of the Hebrew original. Together with its extensive commentary and illuminating notes, this unique translation draws the reader closer to the authentic living voice of the Bible.
The third (if you already have a Bible and want another interesting version), is "Genesis: Translation and Commentary," by Robert Alter (Editor). This is the first of the planned translations of the five books of Moses. The Biblical book of Genesis contains some of the most sublime poetry known to man as well as the powerful and bloody history of early Israel. Literary critic Robert Alter here joins the ranks of contemporary authors who have tried to mimic, in English, the sonorous rhythms and parallel constructions of the original Hebrew. He also supplies an insightful, fascinating commentary that emphasizes the dramatic unity of the Genesis story. For believers seeking a deeper understanding of the Bible's first book, or for readers interested in the Bible as literature, Alter's contribution is essential.

Alter's complete translation and commentary of the Bible: The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary [Hardcover]
One of the books we've been using in the weekly Torah discussion class (meeting Tuesday or Wednesday morning, from 9:30--check the USH calendar for the exact day of the week): The Jewish Study Bible: featuring The Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation, edited by Adele Berlin, Marc Zvi Brettler, Michael Fishbane.

Books for Passover

Haggadot especially for adult beginners

Passover Survival Kit and Survival Kit Haggadah, by Shimon Apisdorf. (Leviathan Press.)
Perfect for someone who has never been to a Seder, this explains the basics. It does not include the Hebrew text.

Keeping Passover, by Ira Steingroot (Harper San Francisco)
This paperback explains everything, including at least 2 different ways to set up the Seder plate (and why), how to roast eggs without risking an explosion in the oven, and a dozen recipes of charoset from all over the world.

The Art of Jewish Living: The Passover Seder, by Ron Wolfson. (Federation of Jewish Mens' Clubs.)
"This is not a Haggadah, but it includes an excellent introduction with important Haggadah texts. Also gives tips on having the Seder from perspectives of different types of families: single parents, empty-nesters, and intermarried couples." (Greenspan)

Haggadot to promote discussion

The Feast of Freedom Passover Haggadah, edited by Rachel Anne Rabinowicz. (The Rabbinical Assembly.)
"Published by the Conservative movement, this Haggadah has an excellent format that is easy to read. The text is mostly traditional, but slight changes have been made." (Greenspan)

A Different Night by David Dishon and Noam Zion (Shalom Hartman Institute.)
Probably my very favorite Haggadah - full of discussion ideas, activities, illustrations (especially the reproductions of the depictions of the Four Sons in over 20 Haggadot over the last 500 years!). In my humble opinion, the best Haggadah you can buy -- at least for the seder leader to use as a reference in planning. (It would get a little pricey to have one for each seder guest.) This guide is fantastic for helping to design a Seder that is engaging for people of all ages, while also in full accord with Jewish law.

The Moss Haggadah, written and illustrated by David Moss. (Bet Alpha Editions; $185.00)
The most beautiful Haggadah I've ever seen, it's an illuminated manuscript with the artist's commentary describing his artwork.

Haggadot for children and families

The Children's Haggadah, by Howard Bogot and Robert Orkand. (CCAR.) Published by the Reform movement;
"Innovative artwork and wonderful interpretations." (Greenspan).

Why On This Night? by Rahel Musleah, illustrations by Louise August. (Simon & Schuster)
"Why On This Night?" is both a haggadah and an informational packet on how to prepare for Passover, from cleaning to making family projects to cooking different kinds of charoset. The Haggadah also provides questions that encourage discussion and which children will enjoy. Best of all, this book has the ability to help us imagine that we really were in Egypt which is, after all, the focus of the seder." (Applebaum)

A Family Haggadah II by Shoshana Silberman. (Kar-ben Copies, Inc.)
"An abridged Haggadah, ideal for a model Seder. For those who want the basics of the Seder without doing the entire ceremony." (Greenspan)

Let's Ask Four Questions by Madeline Wikler. (Kar-Ben.) In English.
"This is a nice, small (ten pages) book for tiny children. It simply answers the four questions--in a sentence or less--accompanied by fun illustrations. Short and sweet." (Applebaum).

Uncle Eli's Special for Kids Most Fun Ever Under the Table Haggadah by Eliezer Lorne Segal, with illustrations by Bonnie Gordon-Lucas. (No Starch Press) In English and Hebrew.
The Haggadah as Dr. Seuss might have written it, for example, why we have to eat matzah when on other nights we can eat "all kinds of wonderful good bready treats like big purple pizza that tastes like a pickle/crumbly crackers and pink pumpernickel, sassafras sandwich and tiger on rye/fifty falafels in pita, fresh-fried, with peanut butter and tangerine sauce." Best of all are the illustrations. (The text of Uncle Eli's Haggadah can be found at www.acs.ucalary.ca/~elsegal.)

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